God’s People, part 175: Bar James

Read Luke 6:12-16

“Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, ‘Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?’”  (John 14:22, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

St._Thaddeus,_St._Sandukht_and_other_Christians_in_Sanatruk's_prisonPart 175: Bar James. The twelve disciples, as a whole, are so well known because of their proximity to Jesus throughout his ministry as accounted for in the Gospels; however, if you were to ask people to name the twelve disciples off of the top of their heads, the list would sound a lot like this: “Peter, James, John, Andrew, Mathew… Thomas….. Judas……..???” That is because there isn’t a whole lot written about the other disciples.

Of course, the Judas mentioned in anyone’s list of the twelve would automatically be Judas Iscariot, who was the only one of the disciples named Judas, right? Well, not exactly. There was also Judas son of James among the Twelve. In fact, Judas was a common name in Jesus’ time. About 60 or so years before Jesus’ birth, there was a Jewish revolutionary ruling as King named Judas Maccabeus. His successful revolution against the Seleucid Dynasty resulted in the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple, an event that is still celebrated in the holiday of Hanukkah.

There was also the revolutionary named Judas of Galilee who founded the Zealot sect, which we discussed in our devotion on Simon the Zealot. As one can see, Judas (another form of Judah) was a popular name and so it makes sense that another disciple would be named Judas, beside the one known as Iscariot.

Judas son of James, also known by the name Jude (but not to be confused with Jesus’ half-brother of the same name), is so named in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:16) and is considered to be the same as the Judas who is listed in John’s Gospel (John 14:22). In Mark and Matthew, there is no Judas son of James listed as being one of the disciples. Instead, they list Thaddeus as one of the Twelve.

Most scholars believe that Thaddeus (which is a Greek nickname meaning “a courageous heart”) is the same person as Judas, son of James. This is quite plausible considering that some of the disciples took on nicknames such as Simon (called Peter), John and James (“sons of Thunder”), etc. Add to the fact that the name Judas was tarnished by Judas Iscariot, and perhaps having a nickname might be quite beneficial for someone with the same name.

Whatever the case may be, Judas went on to preach the Gospel throughout Judaea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya. Along with Bartholomew, Judas was the first to bring the Gospel to Armenia. Also, in what is a favorite tidbit for me, Jude is traditionally believed to have been a vegetarian. In about 65 A.D., Judas and Simon the Zealot were executed by beheading in Beirut.

My hope for those who are reading this is that they will reflect on all of the disciples and their sacrifice for the spreading of the Gospel. In an age where modernists and even seminary presidents try to dismiss the miraculous and scandalous claims of Jesus, these Apostles went to their deaths proclaiming it as Gospel truth. The question is this, who should we believe? Arm chair theologians and modernist historians, or those who were willing to give up their very lives to proclaim the Gospel as truth?

The challenge for all of us is to stop abandoning our hearts for our heads. Yes, God gave us heads to think with, to reason with, and discern with. Yes, we should be using our heads; however, God didn’t just give us our heads, but our hearts as well. None of us truly live by evidence alone. If we did, none of us would ever step foot into a car again, let alone a house. None of us could survive life without faith. None of us could survive (long) without reason and discernment. Learn to balance the two and place your faith in Jesus Christ, just as Judas son of James and the other Apostles did. Serve Christ, no matter the cost.

“The Resurrection is at the core of our beliefs as Christians. Without it, our faith is meaningless.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

Lord, help me to be strong and keep the faith. With you, all things are possible. Amen.

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